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Treasurer Hockey criticised by press secretaries and strategists

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'I am really, genuinely sorry': Hockey

The Treasurer has gone on radio to apologise for suggesting the “poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far”.

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Veteran Liberal Party campaign strategist Toby Ralph says the Germans have a perfect word for Joe Hockey's car crash of a week: schlimmbesserung. It means an attempt to make things better that only ends up making things worse.

Ralph, who worked on all of John Howard's election campaigns, says the Treasurer's biggest mistake wasn't trying to defend a rise in fuel excise by saying the ''poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far in many cases'' in a midweek radio interview. It was the fact Hockey first attempted to defend his comments as statistically accurate - citing the total amount wealthy households spend on petrol.

It was only after two full days, and a slapdown from the Prime Minister, that Hockey gave a full-throated apology.

Joe Hockey.

Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares.

''Yes, the ABS has statistics that actually back Joe's assertion, but that's not the point. It was so clumsily expressed that he should have recanted immediately,'' says the crisis management expert. ''He's gifted himself to Bill Shorten as a punching bag.''

Lachlan Harris, former chief press press secretary to Kevin Rudd, agrees: ''Everyone makes mistakes in the heat of the battle - the big mistake for me was the initial defensive reaction.

''Politics is not a statistical game, it's an emotional game. It was a dopey remark that should have been realised straight away and corrected.''

The first rule of backflips, Harris says, is you have to make them as quickly as possible.

This would have helped prevent damaging follow-up stories – including tabloid splashes on the "chauffeur-driven" Treasurer's supposedly lavish spending on taxpayer-funded travel. In fact, at $26,256, Mr Hockey’s car entitlements for the past six months of 2013 were less than half that of fellow senior ministers Warren Truss, Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison. Wayne Swan spent twice as much on car travel in his last six months as treasurer.

Communications consultant Jane Caro says the problem with Hockey's gaffe was that it reinforced beliefs he is out of touch with low-income earners - an image personified by him smoking a cigar outside Parliament House.

In his apology on 2GB on Friday, Hockey used the words ''sorry'' and ''apologise'' eight times - and his voice carried genuine emotion.

''All of my life I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community,'' he said.

''For there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart when it comes to the most disadvantaged people in the community is upsetting.''

But Caro says the apology ''felt too much about him rather than the people who are affected''.

''People don't think he's evil; they think he doesn't understand what life is like for those on low incomes.''

The gaffe has sparked debate within the Liberal Party about the quality of advice Hockey is receiving following the departure of three of his most senior advisers since the federal election.

''There definitely needs to be a toughening up of the political process to make sure these things don't happen,'' a Liberal insider said. ''There needs to be less ideology, less fighting about nothing and more experienced operators in the offices.''

Harris says Hockey can recover from the gaffe because there is no sense of dishonesty or impropriety about him.

Ralph says Hockey's best shot at redemption is passing some big savings measures.

''There's always a temptation to overcompensate after an image crisis like this, and be seen dishing out meals at soup kitchens or caught handing out blankets to the homeless, but the worst thing he could do would be alter his behaviour.

''Time and authenticity are on his side, so he should simply tough it out and focus on fixing our overspending.''

Given the unruly nature of the crossbench, of course, that's no easy task. And Hockey's budget itself is unpopular.

A poll of 1400 women by cosmetic company Heat found only 13 per cent of respondents felt positively about the budget while 62 per cent felt negative and 25 per cent indifferent.

Seventy per cent felt the budget would negatively affect their standard of living.

Hockey's howlers

April 24 

Defends a co-payment on GP services by saying

“my electorate of North Sydney has one of the highest bulk-billing rates in Australia and I have one of the wealthiest electorates in Australia”.

In fact, with a bulk-billing rate of 70 per cent, North Sydney is among the lowest bulk-billing areas in Sydney.

May 9

Channel Nine airs footage of Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann smoking cigars outside Treasury after putting the finishing touches on the May 13 budget. The image is widely lampooned on social media.

May 14

Caught offguard by Laurie Oakes when asked why he was dancing in his office to the song Best Day of My Life by the group American Authors before he delivered his budget speech.

May 15

 Accused of being patronising when he compares the Medicare co-payment to beers and cigarettes: “One of the things that quite astounds me is some people are screaming about a $7 co-payment. You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that’s two middies of beer to go into the doctor.”

May 21

Incorrectly tells a chronic disease sufferer on Q&A that they would not be affected by the $7 co-payment. The Australian Medical Association quickly rejects the claim, saying chronic disease sufferers will have to pay.

July 7

Takes a week’s holiday in Fiji during the first sitting week of the new Senate.

July 16

Warns he is ready to bypass Parliament if Labor and the Greens oppose budget savings, sparking accusations the government plans a new round of tough spending cuts.

July 23

A biography by Madonna King reveals Hockey wanted the budget to be tougher and carries quotes from his wife that he will never again trust Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull following the 2009 leadership spill.

August 8

Liberal insiders accuse Hockey of being a whinger after he says “everyone is against me at any rate”.

August 13

Says a proposed increase in fuel excise will not hit the poor as hard as the rich because they “don’t have cars or actually drive very far”.

205 comments

  • Thank god you didn't print a list of the cock ups and howlers by all the members of this amusing Government or I'd still be reading it well past my bedtime tonight!

    Commenter
    rext
    Date and time
    August 17, 2014, 8:45AM
    • rext - are you a slow reader ?

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:26AM
    • The stuff-ups of this government would be hilarious if they weren't having such an abominal effect on people.

      Not everything Hockey does, however, is wrong. He was widely criticised for dancing to "This is the Best Day of My Life" before bringing down the Budget, but the criticism was incorrect. Hockey was being prescient - that WAS the best day of his life, because it's been all downhill from there.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:37AM
    • Tosh! The real problem is the budget itself, the car episode was akin to slapping the face of the person you have just shot through the chest. Voters believe that the budget is unfair, and they a correct. It's not a matter of better communication it's a matter of policy. The fact that the tables that identify how the budget affects people and families in differing situations is proof positive that it's unfair, no if's and buts about it. This government has a position an ideological position when it comes to the unemployed , pensioners, and more generally the weak and vunerable and it has used that ideology to frame it's budget. It had plenty of choices and other than a 2% temporary , repeat temporary levy and the fuel excise it's affect on the wealthy was minimal. It's affect on Corporate welfare was minimal, it's affect on the upper middle class was minimal. Before the election we hear all sorts of promises and commitments from the man that now leads our country, perhaps a few of these advisers should re-read these , that might give them a clue as to what the real problem with this government is!

      Commenter
      KIDDING
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:47AM
    • Actually I think it would take you a few days to read them because you would have to read them over and over to actually believe them!!

      Commenter
      Archer
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:55AM
    • Hacka
      As it seems you still support the Abbott Flying Circus could I suggest it's better to be a slow reader than a slow learner?

      Commenter
      rext
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 9:58AM
    • Rext, they could follow up with another volume called, lies and broken promises by Abbott. That will keep us reading until the promised DD.

      It always amazes me when an apology is forced out of someone and they are more sorry for the damage they have caused themselves than for what they have actually done!

      Also, seems even the LNP apologists are slow to react these days!

      Commenter
      Unbelievable
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 10:05AM
    • In the last four years Hockey has spent over a thousand dollars a week just on com cars and taxis's, more than the average family earns and lives on a week? Thousands more on air travel. On top of that he is paid more than what 5 families need a week to survive. If Hockey were to be sacked the country would save thousands of dollars a week, probably the best contribution Hockey could make to Australia. Compare this wasteful person to the great Ted Mack the decent honest man replaced by Hockey.

      Commenter
      HFR
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 10:12AM
    • I would love to see a list of total Liberal Party stuff ups,lies,favors for mates etc that includes both fedaral and state issues. The Victorian saga involving Geoff Shaw alone would take all night to read and the NSW ICAC reading would be riveting.

      Commenter
      Arthur
      Location
      Mt Eliza
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 10:17AM
    • Hockey was disgraced as minister for work choices in the Howard Govt, caught lying repeatedly, ask yourselves what has changed from then till now, he just sweats the same, with every lie he is caught out with. He's still lying in the coalition of the lying, thats what the LNP do, every one of them. Thats why Howard lost his seat and the election and thats why Abbott and Hockey will both lose their seats and the next election.

      Commenter
      HFR
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 10:19AM

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